All was silent until the smooth voice said flatly, “You don’t know that.”
“Look—” Mike said; I could imagine him rubbing his face roughly in the pause that followed. “We’re getting off track. Right now, what’s best for her is—”
“For us to let her go. Stop sticking needles and tubes in her, trying to make her body live a little longer. She’s gone.” I felt something touch my head. “Her body is the only thing left of her.”
“Recover?” his voice pitched high. “Look at her—does she look like she’s going to recover?”
“Stop yelling.” Mike’s tone of reason made my heart soar with desire to be on the receiving end of one of his lectures. “If they hear you, they’ll make you leave. One at a time in here, remember?”
There was a short pause. “It’s five in the morning. Technically, it’s my shift.”
“Look, I’m not saying you have to go, just—” Suddenly, my hand returned—just my hand, with a sharp, cold sensation travelling right through each bone in my fingers. I tensed. It hurt, like holding onto ice or snow a little too long. “Just don’t talk hope, okay? I can’t bear to even hope.”
The silence lingered a while, and all I could focus on was the deep burn of cold in my bones. I wanted to push it away—to make it stop. It branched out from my wrist, slowly trembling up my arm and along my collarbones. I tried to hold my breath, but my lungs weren’t there, a hollow void occupying my chest instead.
“Maybe you should take a walk. You look…stressed,” Mike said.
“You’re right. I’ve been here too long. I’m losing my mind, I—” The cold in my hand suddenly came away, replaced by a warm touch that melted the chill left behind. I knew it was Mike. I remembered touching him once, but not the reason why. I wondered if we were friends or if he loved me maybe. Whatever the reason we’d touched, I liked it. I wanted him to know I could feel him; wanted him to know that, despite the fact that I couldn’t talk to him, I was still here. Somehow, I was still here.
“Is she…smiling?” Mike’s voice peaked on the edge of excited curiosity.
“It means nothing,” said the smooth voice. “It’s just a muscle reflex.”
“No,” Mike said. “No, she is smiling.”
“I’m here, baby girl. I’m here,” Mike whispered in my ear, the warmth of his breath brushing against my hair. It was pleasant—not at all like the cold that had brought me back into reality.
But though the cold was gone, I stayed, in my mind—aware, in this consciousness—surrounded by the black pit of nothing. I could even smell him now—Mike; he smelled like…a feeling. Like…home.
I wanted to go home. Wanted to be like Dorothy and find my magic slippers—wish my way back. I shut my eyes tight and imagined them. Red ones, like the movie, not silver, like the book, and clicked my heels together, repeating the words Dorothy used as a spell to get home.
“Something about...?” Mike paused, then repeated my words. My words. They could hear me.
“Perhaps. Or trying to find her way home,” Mr Smooth suggested.
I tried harder, cupping imaginary hands tightly together, praying he’d hear me again.
“Look at her skin.” A hand fell on my brow, a warm one. “She’s pale. Do you think she’s turni—?”
An empty chill stole the hum of the world and a flat, dense darkness consumed my hope, like a vacuum sucking a hole in my belly.
I was alive, but I was never getting out of here.
An alarm clock somewhere out there woke me. I wanted to reach over and hit snooze, shut it up, but I was so tired my body wouldn’t wake enough to move. I imagined doing it so many times that when the beep lifted me to the surface of my dreams again, I actually thought I’d already turned it off. It was annoying, but, somewhere in the back of my mind, as I tried to drift back to sleep, my brain interpreted it as rhythm—reminding me of something I’d forgotten.
I remembered music. I remembered a song—one I heard so long ago in a place that felt like home, with a boy I know I loved, but could no longer see when I closed my eyes. His song had the same hollow, kind of sorrowful rhythm as that beep.
I opened my eyes and foggy light flooded the room, creeping along the walls and floor like the morning sun sweeping the grass in the early hours. It touched my toes, my ankles, and flowed up over my denim jeans and tank top until, as I looked around me for the first time, saw the orange trees and foliage-covered floor of a forest.
The lake! It was the lake.
And that perfect song was the whisper on the breeze.
It was like I could see him so clearly, sitting just across the way, hunched over a blue guitar, singing that song; his voice so heartbreakingly beautiful. With each note he played, my heart beat double-time, the alarm clock beeping out there in the same rapid pattern.
“Oh, David.” I covered my mouth with a shaky hand, feeling tears track my cheeks like unfamiliar friends in a home they once knew well. “I’m sorry.”
David’s song echoed in the space around me, the volume dropping slowly as it faded away under the alarm clock getting louder, more powerful—the single-tone drowning out the beauty.
My body became stiff too, and tight; I could feel gravity again, but couldn’t use it.
“Once the tube is out, she may just slip away,” he added.
“But—” Someone burst into tears; Vicki, I think. “She looks perfectly fine. How can she be brain-dead?”
What? Brain-dead? I’m not brain-dead. I struggled against my confines—trying to get up. What did they mean by brain dead?
“The tests were conclusive, ma’am. I’m sorry. In some cases, the patient can stay in a coma, on life-support, for years to come. In your daughter’s case, it would be best for her if she didn’t.”
Wait! No, I yelled. I’m not brain-dead. Vicki. Dad. Please?
“Wait!” Vicki said. “Just…don’t take it out yet. Please? Give her more time.”
“Vicki. Just stop,” Mike said. “She’s gone. Don’t make her suffer any more than she already has.”
Mike? No. Don’t give up on me, Mike. I’m still in here. They got it wrong.
“Hand me that tray, please?” the stiff-sounding man said to someone, and in my world, I clutched my own chin as the feel of muggy, sweaty hands touched it.
Get off. Stop touching me! I couldn’t move. I felt my body, felt my arms, my face, but couldn’t get his sticky hands off me. Please? Don’t let me go yet. Don’t give up on me.
David! Where was David? He could read my mind, tell them I was still here, help me, rescue me.
But he left me, gave me away. He never even came to...
A tugging sensation snaked up my throat, grating my insides like the ribbed curve of a straw. My lungs felt tight, strained—as if air was being drawn in through a thick cloth over my mouth.
The room went silent for a breath, then, the beeps sounded in one flat pitch.
The anguished sobs of those around me flooded my heart. I focused on the beeps—willed them to move—but they rang out in monotone.
“Fight, Ara,” a smooth voice hummed, the melody dark with sorrow, as cool lips brushed softly over my eyes...
The air was so thick I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t catch a gasp to scream out to him—to David. He was there. Right there beside me. But nothing had changed. They couldn’t hear me. David couldn’t hear me.
And like a door slamming shut at the end of a long, empty corridor, a dead echo rang all around me. I felt myself whole—felt my fingers, toes, arms, legs, everything was here in this room with me, but I couldn’t see them. I held my arm out and ran my fingers down my completely invisible skin.
“Tell me how to get out of here,” I yelled up at the uninhabited void. “I know you’re out there. I know you can hear me.”
A trickling sound, like water over pebbles, filled the space around me and an eerie feeling lingered along my neck. I turned slightly, noticing a thickness to the dark, like a shadow stood there. But when I tried to focus on it, it was gone.
I closed my eyes tight and crossed my fingers, willing the beeps to move again. “God, please. If you’re up there, please...?”
Then, under my prayer, I heard a sound; I opened one eye and looked around, sure it wasn’t possible—until I heard it again; small and faint, and such a long, quiet pause between each one.
My heart skipped a beat and the beep copied.
“Get the doctor,” someone ordered, and Vicki’s high voice broke into sobs, my Dad’s deep, soothing whisper rising above it with comforting words. I missed my dad so much. Would give anything to see his smile again.
“I can’t,” Mike’s voice sounded so thick with sadness. “I can’t. Where’s the goddamn doctor?” he yelled.
“It’s just a glitch,” the stiff man said suddenly.
“It’s not a goddamn glitch,” Mike screamed. “She’s alive. She’s—” His voice trailed away to soft sobs under my dad’s mutters. And everything went quiet again.
I held my breath, listened carefully, but there were no voices, no beeps—nothing.
I understood then; I was a prisoner in their world. David was right beside me, and I couldn’t even look at him; couldn’t even hold him.
“Ara!” David’s hand swept my brow, bringing the world back, desperation rising up in his controlled tone. “S’il te plait, mon amour, lute, bats toi pour vivre.”
It was no good. I couldn’t wake my mind. I couldn’t reach over and press snooze. I couldn’t even understand what he was saying to me.
“I’ve lost her,” the words trembled from his lips. “I’ve lost her.”
And as if David had felt me give up, his cold hand slipped behind my neck and lifted my head. “Ara? My love, please be in there.”
“Mate,” Mike said. “It’s time to let her go.”
David’s arms wrapped me tightly, his hands searching, touching every inch of flesh as if to caress me back to life.
Then, as the panic reduced to realisation, his hands slowed and a cold drop of liquid fell onto the bridge of my nose. “Please? Fight. I can’t lose you.” He took a deep, strained breath and pressed his lips to my brow. “Je vous en prie, Dieu, sauvez-la.” He took another jagged gasp. “S'il vous plaît, ne l'enlevez pas loin de moi. Ne me l'enlevez pas.”
His words hung in the back of my mind, resonating with a tone of understanding; as if I were right in front of him; they looped around me, pulling me into him, and as I touched my face to his chest, they became suddenly very clear: “I’m begging you, God, save her. Don’t take her from me. Don’t take her away.”
His devastation broke my heart. Oh David. I’m so sorry. I love you. If you can hear me, please know that. Please take care of Mike—tell him I love him too.
He didn’t answer. I wanted him to answer just once—just so I knew he heard me, knew how much I loved him, heard the words I wished I’d said when he asked me to change for him.
“Ara?” Something moved under me as he spoke—my body, I could feel my body, feel the bulky, uneven surface I was laying on. A cold grip tightened ever so slightly around my waist. “Ara?”
“David?” I tried again. I could hear the terror in my cry, but it was real—my voice—it came from somewhere different than it had before.
David laughed from behind me, his lips on the side of my face. “Yes. Yes, my love. Yes. You’re talking. Open your eyes.”
They’re closed? Gravity pulled my skin, dragging it down. I fought against the push and lifted my eyelids, blinking rapidly.
Tears rushed to my irises to protect them from this new experience, burning my vision into a white blur. I couldn’t focus on anything, but I loved it more than the breath I could suddenly feel through my lips.
“You…you saved me. You pulled me out.” I held his hand tight over my belly as the gift of sight restored and I felt his arms become the cold that was restraining before. His chest shook under me; tears dripped from his chin beside my ear and fell onto my shoulder as I took in the room; a white room, a bed, a chair—a glass window looking onto the corridor of a hospital. “What…happened?”